Controversy has been stirring in Oak Lawn Township for the past year regarding a township maintenance position that has resulted in two township supervisor resignations.
The issue likely will be the focus of an Oak Lawn Township Board meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the town hall.
Township supervisors will discuss whether the township should continue to have a maintenance position or if it should be eliminated and the services contracted. Township supervisors are trying to determine the option that would be most cost-effective for the township. They have been discussing the issue for more than a year.
This issue has caused turmoil for the township board and the man who holds the maintenance position, Lonnie Murray of Brainerd.
Denny Schmidt (left) talked Thursday at the Oak Lawn Town Hall about the Oak Lawn Township maintenance position, while Rick Adair listened. Schmidt resigned from the township board in October and Adair resigned in October of 2008 because of the personal attacks against them regarding the maintenance position issue.
Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Mark Haglin, who has been on the township board for several years, said the controversy is "a number of people think it's the person and not the position and it's (about) the position, and a costly one at that."
"With these economic times, we can save taxpayers money by contracting services out and by doing this we also support a small business," Haglin said. "I'm in support of small businesses and if we can do this better yet. Even if it's equal (amount paid for having the position or for the contracted services) I'd rather support a small business than (have) a government job.
"I don't have a problem with anything or anyone. It's a simple business decision. From what I've seen, (contracted services) will be cheaper."
Haglin and Denny Schmidt - who resigned after the October meeting after serving almost 20 years on the township board - said it costs the township $98,000 to have a maintenance position. Of that amount, about $40,000 is paid to Murray for salary, benefits, sick pay, holidays and vacation. The remaining amount is paid in equipment maintenance and repair, fuel and insurance.
Carol Cloud, a township supervisor who's been on the board since March, agreed that the township pays $40,000 for the maintenance position in salary, benefits and vacation. However, Cloud said there have been "all kinds of numbers thrown around and accusations made." Cloud said she didn't know where the $98,000 figure came from.
In an interview Thursday with Schmidt and former Oak Lawn Township Supervisor Rick Adair at the Oak Lawn Town Hall, Schmidt said Adair brought up the issue of eliminating the maintenance position and contracting for services to save the township money in 2008.
"When I first brought it up I was literally crucified," said Adair. "It was a good six months (of discussions) and then I resigned in October of 2008 after 10 years on the board. We get paid $75 a month and it wasn't worth (the personal attacks.)"
Schmidt said, "When he left I was the new target ... They said some mean-spirited comments toward me."
Oak Lawn Town Hall will be the place for township residents to be at 7 p.m. Tuesday for the town meeting to discuss the maintenance position. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Schmidt referred to the people doing the attacking as "The Maintenance Man Posse." Schmidt and Adair said they talked to several township residents who agreed with them and believe contracting for services would cost less money. However, they never attended any meetings to express their views.
Schmidt said the final straw for him leading up to his resignation was that the town clerk, Judy Zelinske, "who is supposed to be neutral started to go toward the 'The Maintenance Man Posse.'"
Contacted by telephone Friday in response to Schmidt's statement, Zelinske declined to comment.
Haglin said he understands Schmidt's reason for resigning. Cloud said as far as she is concerned, Schmidt walked out in a middle of a mess.
Murray said the whole situation "is a big mess."
Sitting Thursday in his lawn chair in his garage in east Brainerd, Murray said the situation started because the township supervisors, or what he called "the good ol' boys" wanted to get him out of his maintenance position.
"There are a lot of politics involved," said Murray. "I wouldn't play their games and it came to a boiling point."
Murray said he believes the township supervisors were not following proper regulations on road projects, including laws on bidding out work.
Murray said he has many people in the township who support his position. Murray said an accountant friend crunched numbers and determined that the township would be paying more money if they contract the services.
In the township's October minutes, Craig Tusler and Joan Olsen were asked to crunch the numbers on the bids to let the supervisors know exactly what the maintenance services would cost the township. The township received three bids from contractors to mow the town hall and its cemetery and another three bids for plowing and grading its roads.
Olsen replaced Schmidt on the board. She took her oath of office Sunday, said Cloud.
Township supervisors also are divided on their finances regarding the Oak Hollow road project. In July, Haglin and Schmidt voted to hire Pratt Affordable Excavating of Merrifield to do the Oak Hollow road project, contingent on the township being able to finance the project at a cost of $159,775. The July minutes read, "A discussion followed of borrowing the money and then levy more to pay the borrowed money back." Cloud voted against the motion.
The bill is now waiting to be paid. The township will discuss Tuesday whether to take money out of its two certificates of deposit or to take out a loan to pay the bill.
Cloud said the township's finances are "very tight" and are in the worst shape she's ever seen.
"We're expecting the last part of our taxes (from the county) and if that is paid on time we'll be in good shape," said Cloud. "We have two CDs but I know for a fact that it won't cover it (the bill)."
Cloud said the road project was not budgeted for. Schmidt said the township has plenty of money in its savings to pay for it.
"The township is far from broke ... That is crazy talk," said Schmidt. "People are making something out of nothing."
Schmidt said the township could face penalties on the CDs if supervisors decided to take money out early, but the township has the money for the road project.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.